I did not have a lot of hope when I walked into Habanero's Mexican Grill on South Stoughton Road. It's a forgettable storefront next to Bachmann's Pools and Tubs, where some sort of spa clearance was taking place, and the parking lot was full of hot tubs under a tent canopy. (It used to be the Mexican restaurant Pelayo's.)
Inside, how can I put this -- there's nothing exciting going on, the way the kitchen at La Zacatecana seems to be vibrant despite the unlikely surroundings. The eating area of Habanero's is painted a dark pumpkin, but that's its only bow to style. A dozen or so tables and the food line -- that's about it.
Habanero's has borrowed a page from Mexican burrito franchises like Qdoba and Chipotle: Customers line up and the staff stuffs a burrito according to the customer's whim from the building blocks in the steam trays.
But Habanero's is working with some good building blocks, with long, slow simmered meats at the heart of the experience. The barbacoa (a rich shredded beef) is described as being made with cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano. The carnitas (shredded pork) are described as "seasoned with apple juice, bay leaves, fresh black pepper and then cooked for six hours." I'm not going to argue with the results, which are better than most barbecue and a step up from some dedicated Mexican restaurants. Also available: steak (seasoned with homemade adobo), chicken (ditto) and pastor (pork marinated in the adobo, then grilled). The veggie version comes with homemade guacamole.
As at the chains, the flour tortilla is laid out and christened with a generous scoop of cilantro-flecked white rice. Your choice of black or pinto beans comes next; then salsa (choose from a juicy pico de gallo, a medium green tomatillo sauce, a corn relish or a red habanero sauce), cheese, sour cream, guacamole (an extra $1.25 charge) and lettuce.
The server carefully tonged up pieces of the barbacoa and carnitas from their juices, even rejecting some that seemed too fatty. I went austere on the fillings, skipping the cheese and the sour cream, and was just as happy with the results.
As with similar burrito line operations, there is not a lot else on the menu. You can build your own taco from the same ingredients, or have your burrito in a bowl with no tortilla, or as a salad. Whatever. If you want a real Mexican meal, go elsewhere, but if you're looking for a burrito with fillings that transcend the burrito franchises, drop in to modest Habanero's.